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Deadly Collapse At Kazakh Radar Site Sparks Safety Concerns

BALKHASH, Kazakhstan -- A deadly accident at a Soviet-era military base in central Kazakhstan has sparked concerns about people's exposure to toxic materials, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

The accident, which killed at least four people, occurred on January 22 when a building at the former Soviet radar station of Dariyal-U near the city of Balkhash collapsed while a group of people were looting it.

The exact number of casualties is unknown since the dismantling of the building was being done illegally and all those at the site, including the injured, fled the scene to avoid arrest.

Former Environment Minister Nurlan Iskakov, several of his deputies, and a representative of the private company Mercury Plus, Adilbek Zhailghanov, were sentenced by an Astana court to long jail terms in October for corruption and other crimes linked to Dariyal-U.

Sergei Pokhodyaev, the former director of Mercury Plus who fled to Moscow after Dariyal-U was investigated, told RFE/RL that he sent letters last year to Kazakh officials urging them to secure the toxic materials at the site and prevent people from looting the site of metals and other valuables.

He said parts of the buildings at the former military base were illegally dismantled by local businessmen and others and used as construction materials or sold as scrap metal.

"All the bricks and other materials in the old buildings are contaminated with a highly toxic substance and should not be reused," Pokhodyaev said. "When I tried to stop the dismantling of the [buildings] and referred the issue to officials, I was threatened and later left Kazkahstan."

Kazakh Environment Minister Nurghali Ashimov said on December 11 that he would declare Dariyal-U an emergency environmental situation by December 31 due to the dangerous toxic materials. But the declaration was not made.